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We have to play a game.'" They went out to his car and got his board, but he accidentally locked his keys inside. I was distracted, though, because I kept looking out for the tow truck and there were a bunch of bugs in my hair, and she was way ahead of me." They called off the game, but after he retrieved his keys they played again in a nearby restaurant."I beat her by a hundred-something points," he says."I'm definitely into what's called 'dark-side' art," he says, but his favorite kind of tattoo is anything that doesn't involve any arguing--anything that makes the client happy.At the convention, people he'd inked more than five years earlier kept popping up to say hello. " said one guy with a sandy mullet and matching mustache, pulling up the back of his girlfriend's tank top.He pointed at a small tattoo of a flower with a name underneath. " Before beginning a tattoo, Ben and his customer have already worked out a design."Every fucking convention I go to," says Ben Lewis, "all the guys go sit in some bar and drink all night, and I'm back at the hotel beating their wives at Scrabble." The weekend of August 2, at the international Tattoo the Earth convention in Rosemont, the wife of the owner of Fat Cat Tattoos in Brooklyn sought out Lewis, who's better known as Ben Wahhh, owner of Lakeview's Deluxe Tattoo."I found out this woman plays against world champion Richie Lund--and he's a supergenius," says Ben.
Ben's "bio-wreck" art--a term he coined--has earned him a worldwide reputation.The work gives the appearance that flesh is melting or has been ripped away to reveal brightly colored, surreal organic patterns, often involving skulls and eyeballs.The next week when he followed Tattoo the Earth to Oakland, she flew out for a rematch. "You sort of have an idea of how the picture's gonna look when you're done, and you know you have to fit the pieces together to get there." Unlike a jigsaw puzzle, however, there's no picture of what a tattoo's supposed to look like when it's finished."It's almost frustrating," he says, "when given an open opportunity." Once, a client whom Ben had tattooed before came in and said, "Do whatever you want--I want something that's totally you." The man wound up with a "sickly, headless, gangrenous figure" on his arm.
A skull, says Ben, is "perfect, symmetrical, all about structure and function.If you tried to build something that intricate with your bare hands, it'd be impossible." His portfolio showcases demonic ankylosauric faces and alien machines dripping with thorny goo, but he's also produced images that resemble ninja throwing stars, a gigantic, intricate Aztec calendar tablet, swords under an elaborate Celtic knot, a woman mourning at the foot of a grave, a shark, and a medieval-looking heart and banner.